Behind the curtain at Private Policy


The story of Private Policy is a classic example of a string of lucky accidents. Two students, originally from China, study abroad with completely different career paths in mind and eventually switch gears, going to the same fashion school in New York in the same graduating year. Although not initially friends, some higher power drew them together at the tail end of their experience.

PHOTOGRAPHER CAMILO FUENTEALBA @camilio.fuentealba.brevis
HAIR @KAZUTO SHIMOMURA @kazutoshimomura

 It turned out to be quite the clever unraveling, having already done 8 ready-to-wear collections, been carried in 30+ retailers worldwide, and snagging a finalist nod from the CFDA Fashion Fund, all in the span of a few years. Oh, and let’s not forget the fashion style icons like Billie Eilish, Bella Hadid, and Kendall Jenner, that have been seen wearing their clothes regularly. 

A thing that sets designers Siying Qu and Haoran Li apart, and particularly what caught the eye of submission, is that they have been so adamant about doing things differently from the jump. Each season’s inspiration is based on a socio-political theme and their commitment to sustainability is beyond worth applauding. They are constantly coming up with new ways to minimize their environmental impact.

As so often is the case, they’ve found that a kindred spirit makes it so much easier to get their point across. “We feel super lucky to have met each other and decided to create a brand together”, says Siying. “Our creative skills and personalities just clicked. Sometimes we joke about how we’re twins because we’re so in sync”. She cites doing this as a team and being each other’s support and encouragement as one of the biggest strengths of their collaboration. 

“Growing a brand can be so incredibly hard with creative blocks, business madness, production emergencies constantly thrown your way. As individuals, one can’t help but feel sad or want to give up, but as a team, we just laugh about it and find the solutions.”

I find myself a little hesitant to ask about heritage and how it influences their work. As designers based in the US for almost a decade, surely Private Policy are as American as any other young brand making their way in the New York fashion landscape, regardless of their cultural background. 

However, in the current climate of so much anti-Asian hate in North America and beyond, I find it important to check in with them and see what their thoughts are on the matter. For FW21, they collaborated with the Museum of Chinese in America on a collection that so elegantly spoke to the heritage of the people. 

The subject of being Chinese in America is clearly something close to their hearts, but in general, matters that may bring an uncomfortable edge to a fashion show is not something they have ever shied away from. Siying acknowledges my observation while adding clarity.

“We are very thankful for the multicultural experiences we grew up with, our heritage influences our designs in all aspects, often within the concept and method of thinking instead of symbols or direct references. We decided to talk about social-political topics with fashion as a medium because we want to create designs for people to express their minds, not only a cool look.” 

Siying and Haoran are passionate about discussing social topics with friends and continuously draw inspiration from those conversations. It’s an exciting thing to watch – a brand maneuvering these dicey waters is highly unusual. Naturally, it’s had its challenges.

“It was not easy when we first started the brand with this concept,” explains Siying. “Many did not understand, maybe because fashion is perceived as shallow and thus cannot express serious topics. We pressed on, with creative interpretations of abstract social issue perspectives into clothing design elements and carefully curating show experiences in our sound, set design, and styling. Our collections showcase how fashion can bring awareness and a call for action.” 

Their direction is consistent and inspiring and has resulted in a unique way to source inspiration for a young brand not necessarily looking to muses from pop culture as many of their peers. As Qu explains, “Staying curious and exploring new things is very helpful to keep the new ideas flowing. Often the next inspiration starts with a museum exhibition, a documentary, or a news report story. The key is to find a topic we’re excited about and can’t stop talking about.” 

I’m curious as to how exactly this approach translates into the ethos of their brand, both in terms of being inclusive and sustainable. Qu explains how being inclusive, embracing diversity, and encouraging uniqueness are at the core of Private Policy. They want people to feel free instead of boxed in by stereotypes or boundaries. 

Sustainability is a trickier one to answer, as it is for everyone. The term sustainability has evolved from a powerful word into something that smells too much like a greenwashing opportunity. While Siying agrees with my sentiment, she still adds nuance and explains how it can still make sense to use as a brand.

“Sustainability for us is a way of living, which is in harmony with nature. Instead of trying to find a quick fix, we believe it is a journey of betterment. In many ways, we can always be more sustainable. Within that exploration, many opportunities for creativity emerge.” 

For Siying and Haoran, sustainability is not something they claim as an achievement; it is something they are always pursuing. “We constantly think about how to be more eco-friendly in all aspects of our brand. From sharing recycling tips in the office to exploring more sustainable packaging and adjusting production to avoid waste, using as many eco-friendly fabrics as possible, to partnering with earth-friendly companies to encourage our current manufacturers to care more about sustainability.” 

They’re making an effort to go the extra mile, something that is hard to do for a brand their size. It takes determination and comes at a hefty cost for a smaller operation, but they understand the inherent value it is creating for them long term.

So far, their e-shop packaging is made of biodegradable materials like kraft paper and biodegradable tape. In recent seasons they’ve switched out most virgin poly-fiber fabrics with recycled polyesters like recycled poly vegan leather, nylon, spandex, and organza. They also use unconventional upcycled material for their showpieces. Not a small feat for a young independent brand, but it’s a challenge they won’t stop pursuing. 

As an emerging brand, it is not always easy to find the most technologically advanced sustainable materials. Sometimes it’s way too expensive, or the asking minimum is too high. However, as Qu explains, what is important for them is to keep on trying and using their ‘design minds’ to solve problems. 

“Coming up with innovative earth-friendly ideas is fun. Our favorite materials at the moment are the Italian biodegradable nylon and recycled poly organza we have sourced because they show that you don’t have to compromise the aesthetic for sustainability. It should be standard practice, and it is possible. And definitely, we love the showpieces we created by melting upcycled plastic bottles, quilting shredded money waste into old vinyl tablecloth, and fusing plastic bags into fabrics. We are looking into more and more exciting new earth-friendly materials that are made of natural organic matter, such as fruit peels, mycelium, and cactus, as well as more government level regulations for recycling to end virgin plastic and provide resources to invent sustainable materials.”

It’s an exciting time to explore earth-friendly options. Submission Beauty is beyond excited to be partnering with Private Policy for their “Urban Plants” themed SS22 runway show later this week. The show explores the relationship between humans and plants. Not only how plants are great for the city environment, but also how wonderful they are for our mental health. Stay tuned on IG Live 9/10 and for more about the show the following day.